Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
40. Downfall of the Order 42. Transmigration

From Chapter II., Science and Religion

41. Want of Evidence as to the Teaching of Pythagoras
Of the opinions of Pythagoras we know even less than of his life. Plato and Aristotle clearly knew nothing for certain of ethical or physical doctrines going back to the founder himself.47 Aristoxenos gave a string of moral precents.48 Dikaiarchos said hardly anything of what Pythagoras taught his disciples was known except the doctrine of transmigration, the periodic cycle, and the kinship of all living creatures.49 Pythagoras apparently preferred oral instruction to the dissemination of his opinions by writing, and it was not till Alexandrian times that any one ventured to forge books in his name. The writings ascribed to the first Pythagoreans were also forgeries of the same period.50 The early history of Pythagoreanism is, therefore, wholly conjectural; but we may still make an attempt to understand, in a very general way, what the position of Pythagoras in the history of Greek thought must have been.

Burnet's Notes


47. When discussing the Pythagorean system, Aristotle always refers it to "the Pythagoreans," not to Pythagoras himself. He is quite clear that what he knew as the Pythagorean system belonged in the main to the days of Empedokles, Anaxagoras, and Leukippos; for, after mentioning these, he goes on to describe the Pythagoreans as "contemporary with and earlier than them" (ἐν δὲ τούτοις καὶ πρὸ τούτων, Met. A, 5. 985 b 23).

48. The fragments of the Πυθαγορικαὶ ἀποφάσεις of Aristoxenos are given by Diels, Vors. 45 D.

49. Porphyry, V. Pyth. 19 (R. P. 55).

50. See Diels, Dox. p. 150, and "Ein gefälschtes Pythagorasbuch" (Arch. iii. pp. 451 sqq.); Bernays, Die heraklitischen Briefe, n. 1.

Created for Peithô's Web from Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, 3rd edition (1920). London: A & C Black Ltd. Burnet's footnotes have been converted to chapter endnotes. Greek unicode text entered with Peithô's Younicoder.
Web design by Larry Clark and RSBoyes (Agathon). Peithô's Web gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Anthony Beavers in the creation of this web edition of Burnet. Please send comments to:
agathon at classicpersuasion